On its surface, this novel is about an unnamed twenty or thirty something narrator traveling with her boyfriend, Jake, to his parents’ remote family farm for a first ‘meet the parents’ dinner. As the two are driving there, our protagonist begins to have doubts about the relationship (“I’m thinking of ending things”) but ultimately decides she can’t say anything until they’re back home in the city. Once they arrive at Jake’s parents, everything starts to shift in vaguely unsettling ways- dead animals frozen and stacked outside the barn, the parents initially being MIA despite the table being set, Jake becoming oddly quiet, the parents warning the girlfriend away from the basement, etc. Everything feels uncanny- like it could be real but in real lift would be slightly off. Reid uses this tension to create a foreboding sense that we’re entering horror story territory. After dinner, the two head back to the city and I breathed a sigh of relief that it wasn’t a horror story. That relief was too soon- instead of driving straight home Jake decides to make an unexpected pit stop. Soon it’s not just a foreboding sense of a horror story but a definitive sense- we are definitely inside a Jordan Peele or Ari Aster-style horror story.
I finished this book in a single 24 hour period (it’s a quick 200 page read) and I’m still thinking about it. I also struggle to describe it without giving too much away. Reid is very good at setting up what feels like a normal scenario (‘meet the parents’) and slowly twisting reality until you’re not sure what is real anymore. He is also great at creating mood and tension.
Although I can’t stop thinking about this one, I’m also not sure if I ‘liked’ it, or who I would recommend it to. I had intended to read the book first and then see how it held up to the film version starring Jesse Plemons and Toni Collette. Having finished it, my desire to watch the film version has waned- it was so disturbing. As far as recommendations: if you’re a real horror movie nut, or looking for a Halloween read this year, this would fit the bill. If you’re just a horror dabbler, or feeling pretty bummed out by the world at this stage in time (hello month 13 of the pandemic…), I’d give this a pass, at least for now.